From Springvale High School to partner at a global law firm

In the first of a Q&A series with people involved in the Ourschool program, Caroline Milburn, Ourschool’s CEO and co-founder, talks to:

Geoff Mann, lawyer and partner at Ashurst

Geoff is a graduate of Springvale High School, which merged to become Keysborough College. He took part in an Ourschool alumni career pathways session at Keysborough College, and he hosted a Year 10 Keysborough student for work experience at Ashurst’s Melbourne office.

Geoff, what motivated you to accept Ourschool’s invitation to provide a work experience placement? As a school student I was in a similar situation to what many of the Keysborough students would be in – they probably don’t have family or a long family history of working in the law. I had no one that I knew who was a lawyer.

The more information you have, the better decisions you can make moving forward, especially with course selection. It’s a really hard decision to make to commit to doing a long university degree without much information to go on.

A lot of people end up studying law because they get the ATAR that gets them into the course but they don’t have a passion for law. 

The more I can arm people with knowledge about what law is really like, the better it is for them and the better it is for the profession and for the universities. Pumping out law graduates for no real reason isn’t that great.

What appealed to you more generally about getting involved in the alumni program at Keysborough?  I got a lot out of the public school system and it gave me the opportunity to go on to university. I had fantastic teachers. So, anything I could do to support the public school system was a great opportunity to give something back.

I see people coming into the law firm from private school, often from very privileged backgrounds, who’ve had the benefit of a school alumni network that’s operated for many years. Many of the more established Melbourne private schools have that old school tie network.

Ourschool is trying to create something similar, without some of the downsides that come with that, such as nepotism. Law firms are more conscious of those downsides nowadays.

The first law firm I joined, was very conscious of that. They didn’t just want to recruit people from the same schools they went to and they gave me an opportunity.

At that stage, in the late 80s, they were starting to look at people who hadn’t gone to one of the established private schools. The more we can encourage recruiting on merit, the better.

Do you know if many of your office colleagues are state school graduates?  My current firm was a very conservative firm when I joined in 2003. That’s changed over the last 17 years.

I’m still a little bit of an outlier even now. But it’s starting to change with the younger generation coming through and the next generation of partners coming through.

We’re recruiting from universities all over the place, including Deakin, La Trobe, the University of Tasmania and elsewhere. Diversity in the law is improving every year.